First thing's first here: I really like the concept of downloadable content (DLC). It has potential to increase the play value of our favorite games, and it gives developers incentive to continue supporting these games long after release. Red Dead Redemption provided one of the best examples of exactly what good DLC should be with Undead Nightmare. This was a brand new storyline that completely changed much of the world we'd grown familiar with over the course of the base game. It was well worth the asking price. Oblivion also provided some decent examples of good DLC with its Shivering Isles and Knights of the Nine.
Of course, Oblivion also provided one of the very first examples of DLC done wrong with its infamous Horse Armor. But Oblivion has an out here: console DLC was a new enough concept that Bethesda wasn't able to do a whole lot of market research to show them exactly what works and what doesn't. And they were able to prove that they had figured it out with their more robust DLC offerings down the road. Even though we still make Horse Armor jokes, I think most of us have forgiven Bethesda for this blunder.
There are other companies, however, who haven't done quite as well at learning how to implement DLC in ways that make fans truly happy. In fact, there's this growing trend in the gaming industry where developers/publishers are using DLC to milk their loyal customers for additional cash, and this is simply not cool.
Examples of this are as recent as the Ninja Gaiden 3 debacle that occurred earlier this week. Fans were upset that the free additional weapon DLC they were promised was only usable in the single-player campaign, and that they would have to pay an additional fee to use them online. I'm pretty sure their frustration was valid here, as they feel like they are being forced to pay for something they were originally promised for free.
And this comes on the heels of the Asura's Wrath dilemma. The ending was intentionally left off the game so that fans would have to pay for it later. That's right, by spending $60 for a brand new shrink wrapped version of the game, you don't even get to see the ending without plopping down an additional fee.
Of course, that comes from Capcom, who not long ago was making news for including a hefty chunk of DLC right on the Street Fighter X Tekken game disc. Yes, if you own a copy of SFxTK, you already have all the DLC. You just can't use it until you part with some extra cash.
Now, these instances provide three variations of the single biggest problem with DLC: Fans simply do not like being charged for content they feel like they've already paid for. In the Ninja Gaiden example, it comes down to the fact that Team Ninja wasn't as transparent as they should have been about the pricing of this content. When announcing that DLC is going to be free, make sure you provide any caveats at the time of the initial announcement. Fans who find themselves being asked to pay for something that was even vaguely referred to as "free" understandably become upset when asked to pay for that. We could probably write this off as a PR blunder rather than a fundamental problem with how DLC is implemented in today's gaming landscape, though.
However, the other two examples I've provided are evidence of a disturbing trend: Game companies can use DLC as an excuse to hold back content from paying fans. This is inexcusable. Now, let me provide two rules of thumb for DLC here, which I feel are perfectly fair.
Rule #1: If the content is on a disc when the game goes gold, then anyone who paid for that disc should get this content. All of it. As far as we gamers are concerned, this is the content we paid for. Making us pay extra for it is insulting to us, feels like a ripoff, and is doing a disservice to the game industry in general. (I'll explain this last bit later.)
Rule #2: If you don't have time to make a proper ending for your game before launch and plan on releasing it as DLC later down the road, that DLC should be free. I mean, if we paid $60 for a game, we want a full game, not just 90% of a game. Now, I know this topic is controversial at this point, but let's look at BioWare for a moment. Fans were unhappy with Mass Effect 3's ending, so BioWare is working on expanding that ending with future DLC. Even though they are basically putting future DLC (which we will probably have to pay for) on hold to get this expanded ending to us, this content is free. When we buy a game, it had better damn well be a complete game with a beginning, middle, and, yes, even an ending.
Now, these two "rules" aren't just the product of entitlement issues or some such nonsense. These are simply the things we assume are included when we purchase a game. So come on, developers (especially Capcom), throw us a bone here.
Now, though I find it incredibly inconvenient to have to pay for on-disc DLC, or DLC that, by all means, should have been included on the disc but wasn't for whatever reason, this has serious implications for the game industry as a whole. By instilling less-than-fair DLC practices, game companies are souring gamers toward the very idea of DLC. Probably the single most valid argument against DLC in the first place is that developers will use it as an excuse to intentionally hold back content to squeeze extra money from customers. When we've spent the past two months getting nickel-and-dimed by Capcom, it's a little hard to look at future DLC with optimism. And that's unfortunate for the games that legitimately have great DLC packs to offer us.
My prediction: Unfair DLC policies will probably continue to thrive. My concern, though, is that the DLC that's actually great will far too often be painted with a brushstroke of negativity. And that's not fair. Cheating the most loyal customers of a product may prove financially beneficial in the short term, but in the long run, it's steering the very concept of DLC into waters we gamers simply aren't comfortable with. How far can publishers go before we decide to jump ship completely? I can't really say, but that's something Capcom should probably think about at its next board meeting.
Editor / News Director
Date: April 5, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*